Friday, October 23, 2009

Addressing the 'hydro-illogic' cycle

Dr. James Beard, professor emeritus Texas A&M University and a world-famous turfgrass expert, wryly refers to “the hydro-illogic cycle” when discussing the water needs of lawns, sports fields, golf course and other properties.

“When there’s a drought, authorities go into a panic and start saying ‘we have to do something.' When it starts to rain again the panic passes and they say ‘oh well, we really don’t have to do anything.’ That’s the hydro-illogic cycle,” says Beard.

The hydro-illogic cycle, of course, is quite different from the hydrologic circle (or cycle).

Well-known to anyone who studies water, the hydrologic cycle refers to the process where fresh water is continually recycled, being dumped onto the earth as rain or snow and returning to the atmosphere as water vapor from the oceans and the earth’s land masses. The process is repeated over and over again, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, eon after eon.

In other words, when we use the term water scarcity we’re usually referring to a regional lack of fresh water, not water in total, which covers three quarters of the earth’s surface. The amount of fresh water by comparison is tiny, just 2.5% of the total. More startling yet is the amount of fresh water available to sustain our societies, less than 1% of world’s supply of fresh water. Most fresh water is locked up in ice at the poles, in glaciers, in soil moisture and in very deep aquifers.

But even this tiny amount of available fresh water would be sufficient to sustain our needs if it was captured and distributed and used efficiently. This of course starts with using what we already have more efficiently, the least expensive source of “new” fresh water.

Beyond that, lack of reservoirs, the need for additional distribution (including infrastructure badly in need of replacement) and too little reuse of the water we already have are at the core of our regional water shortages

Says Beard, there is no reason for water to be scare, particularly in the eastern United States that gets enough precipitation (even if it is unpredictable) to sustain forests of trees, which research has shown require far more water than turfgrass, he adds.

Will the water hydro-illogic cycle be repeated in north Georgia and into the Carolinas, a region that suffered one of its worst droughts on record in 2007-2008. That drought caused billions of dollars in lost revenues in agriculture, the Green Industry and other water-dependent businesses.

The region is predicted to remain one of the fastest growing in the nation for the next 30 years and the region will almost certainly be revisited by droughts.

Now that the rain has returned to this region and its flush with water, will policymakers there put new sources of fresh water on the legislative backburner?

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